The women of Pescador
The women of Pescador in Navotas attempt to stand straight up with their children, almost defiantly, we might say, in their world of poverty and abasement. It is hard not to talk dramatically about such women, even though hundreds of thousands of similarly poor women do it every day, and succeed to a great extent.
There were six of us—Fr. Jorge Anzorena, my wife Alice, Ate Cita Vendiola, Luz Sudueste, Benjo Raposa and myself. We wanted to see if our nongovernment organization could help the people there. We found small, thin women selling miserably little fish that looked more like strips of gum than something to eat. The women must have been beautiful once, but now their faces are wrinkled and their teeth are missing. They are from the 150 or so families in the Pescador neighborhood who live in temporary housing along both sides of R-10.
They live in tents that are packed close together, worn and dirty on the outside. But inside the tents are clean, and all the space is carefully used. Some families have only three or four square meters, just enough room for a family-size bed, where their whole life of sleeping, eating, loving, studying and playing is carried out. The families have been in this emergency housing for at least a year, since Typhoons “Pedring” and “Gener” and a community fire destroyed their old homes. How long should emergency housing last?
It’s a bad situation. The government promised some families space in a new tenement. Other families are willing to live on stilts in old fishponds in an area called Tanza. Maybe the people and the government can look into that possibility. A few years ago, the Pros Architects designed a village on stilts for the very same place. It can work. Haven’t tribal people lived graciously on stilts in the southern Philippines?
The women also hope the government will give them loans with which they can start small businesses, such as selling fish.
We had the impression that the women had done just about all they could do by themselves. We asked them what lessons they had learned that they could share with us. One of the leaders said, “We must go on and on, no matter what. Life must go on.” We asked, “Are you angry with God, perhaps?” Another woman said, “If God were not here taking care of us, we would not be here.”
It was a Saturday, so after a long talk the people invited Father Jorge to come back on Sunday and say Mass for them. He agreed, so on Sunday we were back and had a very simple, prayerful Mass in the middle of the tents. The altar was an old piece of plywood. A row of small girls sat in front, looking very intently at Father Jorge and myself. We were being judged. The adults stood behind, perhaps 50 all together, mostly women.
When the time came for the sermon. Benjo and Alice talked.
“Just encourage them,” Father Jorge whispered to Benjo. “Tell them God loves them and is very pleased with them. That’s enough.”
The women were very grateful. They thanked Father Jorge for having “noticed them” and for taking time to visit them. Maybe they hadn’t expected anyone’s attention in their lives. One older woman put her arms around him and cried softly.
The women may not be beautiful as they perhaps once were, but the children are, especially when they are pouring water over themselves and their young bodies gleam in the sunlight. They are beautiful, too, in their quiet moments: Long before the Mass started, a little girl seated on one of the chairs before us was telling her little brother to be quiet. “Sssshhh,” she told him with a very stern look. There was no one else around.
We had the impression the women live for their children.
These women are a good example of how God wants men and women to live in this world. It is described in the Prophet Micah (6:8): “Do good, love tenderly and walk humbly before your God.” There are many women like them among the poor. There are men, too, of course, but it is the women we met that weekend.
If the reader is fed up with the problems of Manila or feels somehow uneasy with or threatened by urban poor people, please visit Pescador and talk to the women. I think it will help. It helped us.
Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates (firstname.lastname@example.org).
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